Rail safety getting attention

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, Feb. 12, 2015 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) has introduced AB 102, Railroad Safety and Emergency Planning and Response. In addition to being the Chair of both the Select Assembly Committee and the Joint Committee on Emergency Management, Rodriguez worked as an emergency medical technician in the San Gabriel Valley for 28 years.

At this point, AB 102 is a spot bill (a placeholder, a beginning point to be filled in later) meant to deal with alleviating the dangers associated with the transportation of hazardous materials by rail through California. Rodriguez wants to see a “Gap Analysis” that evaluates the coverage and equipment currently available throughout the state for onsite emergency response and the plan for interfacing with local response units before establishing a budget and a tax on hazardous material transport. While we are hearing that Assemblymember Rodriguez wants his bill to be the vehicle to deal with this situation, the Governor’s office appears to be preparing to introduce a budget trailer bill that will place a fee on rail transportation of hazardous materials that will add up to $10 million per year. Money generated by this fee would support an expansion in Office of Emergency Service (OES) staffing and equipment.

At the present time, railroad safety has been under the jurisdiction of the federal government and, of course, the railroads. Chemical companies are responsible for handling rail spills. These companies and the railroads must carry extensive insurance coverage and contract with emergency response companies as a contingency for a spill.

OES has primarily dealt with over-the-road (truck or tanker) transportation and has no experience dealing with large spills like a rail derailment. In fact, OES has not responded to a rail spill since the early 1980’s. The recent surge in shipments of crude oil to California refineries has brought more public attention to this topic, fueled primarily by anti fossil fuel environmental groups. OES was expected to provide a “Gap Analysis” by now, but stakeholders have seen nothing.

Besides the need for a “Gap Analysis,” one of the questions yet to be answered is: Can the railroads afford to absorb a tax on the hazardous materials they carry to fund a OES response system in addition to their current response system?

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